Hundreds of Indigenous March in Paraguay

April 20, 2012

by AQ Online

Some three hundred representatives of Paraguay’s Indigenous peoples demonstrated in the capital city of Asunción yesterday, marking the Day of the American Indigenous and demanding access to education, health and ancestral lands. They came from across the interior of the country and once in Asunción, walked 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Cerro Lambaré, a monument to an Indigenous chief, to the seat of the national Congress, in a demonstration that included dancing, music, the selling of artisan handcrafts, and shaman rituals.

Clemente Lopez, a leader of the Chamacoco peoples, told the Associated Press, “Our permanent struggle is to make the state return the lands where our ancestors lived and that today should belong to us.” Catalino Sosa, of the Mbyá Guaraní peoples, told Efe, “This is not a party. It is a day of reclaiming from the state and the government land and territory, because in Paraguay laws are not enforced, nor is there political will.” He said his community, based about 250 km (155 mi) east of Asunción lacked schools and health services, and asked that greater resources be allocated to it. Another leader from a fishing community north of Asunción said the fisherpeoples there needed government assistance to help commercialize their artisanal products.

The Indigenous demonstration and celebrations were in part coordinated by the state body Instituto Nacional del Indígena (National Institute of the Indigenous), which facilitated their transportation from the interior zones of the country. There were no incidences of violence, according to police forces deployed to maintain order.

Paraguay’s Indigenous number about 100,000, out of a total population of 6.5 million. They are divided into 20 pueblos and five linguistic families—the Guaraní, Maskoy, Mataco Mataguayo, Samuco and Guacuru. The majority of them live in rural areas in the western Chaco region, although a scant community of about 10 families lives in the jungle region on the border with Bolivia. A rise in deforestation, mechanized agriculture and government neglect have increased poverty among Paraguay’s Indigenous communities; 63 percent of Indigenous children in the country live in extreme poverty, compared to about 20 percent of non-Indigenous children.

Tags: Social inclusion, indigenous, Paraguay

Brazil Displeased at Bolivian Decision to Revoke Highway Contract

April 12, 2012

by AQ Online

The Brazilian government expressed its displeasure yesterday at Bolivian President Evo Morales’ decision to revoke the contract of a Brazilian construction company to build a controversial highway through the Amazon. According to the Brazilian newspaper Valor Económico, Morales’ announcement on Tuesday that he would rescind Construtora OAS’ contract to build the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway “was poorly received in the Brazilian government, which considers it a sovereign decision but not a positive one from the point of view of Brazilian investors in that country.” The newspaper also said the subject would likely come up when Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff meets with Morales later this week at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.

Morales suspended construction on one part of the highway last fall, following a series of protests over the road’s planned path through an Indigenous rainforest known as the Parque Nacional y Territorio Indígena Isiboro-Secure (Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory—TIPNIS). He announced on Tuesday his plans to annul the contract to build the other two sections of the highway, saying during a news conference that “the company hasn’t complied” with the terms of their agreement and that it had “suspended construction without justification or authorization.” Morales did not say if construction of the highway would continue without OAS or if the company would be compensated.

Funding for the project was due to come largely from Brazil’s national development bank, Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES), which had approved a $332-million loan for the project that Brazil hoped would link the Brazilian Amazon to Peruvian and Chilean ports on the Pacific coast. Bolivian Minister of the Economy and Public Finance Luis Arce Catacora on Tuesday declared that the loan’s interest rate was too high and that Bolivia could “likely obtain other sources of financing...with better terms for Bolivia.” 

Tags: Bolivia, indigenous, TIPNIS, Bolivia-Brazil relations

En Guatemala, Una Mujer Maya Defiende los Derechos Humanos

February 28, 2012

by Hector Javier Tecum

A través del hemisferio occidental, activistas ciudadanos fuera del sector público luchan cotidianamente por los derechos humanos y una sociedad más justa e igual; en la comunidad maya guatemalteca, Aura Lolita Chávez es una lideresa que defiende los derechos de los pueblos mayas, y recién la entrevisté.

Ella fue nacida en Santa Cruz del Quiché—160 kilómetros al noroccidente de la capital guatemalteca. Lolita es la fundadora y coordinadora del Consejo de Pueblos K’ichés, una instancia integrada por lideres indígenas de distintas regiones del departamento de Quiché y que busca fomentar una mayor participación de los sectores marginados y discriminados de la sociedad guatemalteca.

Su constante lucha a favor de los pueblos indígenas le ha costado una serie de acciones en su contra como denuncias en el Ministerio Público y en otras instancias judiciales porque constantemente lucha por la defensa de la vida, madre naturaleza, la tierra y el territorio. También, propugna mensajes de lucha y resistencia ante las políticas estatales que marginan o relegan a los indígenas a posiciones no deseadas, una de sus fuertes luchas es contra la explotación y exploración minera y la mala utilización de los recursos naturales, también es conocida por la organización de protestas y el bloqueo de carreteras para que las autoridades atiendan las peticiones de los pueblos indígenas.

Entre sus principales metas está el lograr una mejor calidad de vida para los pueblos de Quiché—por ello en una actividad recientemente declaró que los pueblos indígenas están en contra de las mínimas regalías que las grandes empresas mineras dejan al Estado sin que las comunidades afectadas se vean beneficiadas. Por ello exclamó, “Decimos sí a la vida y no a las regalías, porque nuestra tierra no se vende, se recupera y se defiende.”

Tags: Guatemala, Social inclusion, women, indigenous, Maya

Peruvian Environment Ministry Official Resigns, Protests Continue

November 29, 2011

by AQ Online

Salomón Lerner, President of the Council of Ministers, announced today that the government had accepted the resignation of Viceminister of Environment José de Echave, who left his position over differences on the handling of protests around the Conga mine project. Echave—an expert in environmental conflict management and the  leader of environmental group CooperAccion—offered his resignation yesterday in noting that President Humala’s government “lacks an adequate strategy for dealing with social conflict.”

The viceminister leaves his post on the sixth day of strikes in the city of Cajamarca, which has seen blocked roads, food shortages, and cancelled flights.

Echave’s decision—which follows the removal of special presidential advisor Carlos Tapia, a left-wing activist who supported the protests against the mining project—comes in response to the government’s strategy toward the protests. The viceminister said publicly he disagrees with President Humala’s plans to create a special authority within the Council of Ministers in charge of studies on environmental impact and environmental audits. “I believe that won’t help build a strong environmental authority, even more in a country where environmental concerns are the main source of social conflict,” Echave added.

Local communities in Cajamarca raised attention to the environmental impacts of the Conga mine project a month ago. The Conga project—a $4.8 billion gold and copper mine in northern Peru that is part of the larger Yanacocha mine—is largely controlled by U.S.-based Newmont Mininc Corp. The protestors are concerned about plans to dry up four lakes in order to extract the gold under the water in a zone where economy depends on agriculture and livestock.

The project shows the challenges that Humala faces in trying to promote economic growth while maintaining social inclusion, with inclusion being the foundation of his campaign and a key component of his government.

Tags: Peru, Social inclusion, indigenous, Minas Conga

Bolivian Congress Approves “Indigenous Justice”

June 8, 2010

by AQ Online

Bolivia’s national congress today passed legislation that officially codifies the application of “original” or “communal” justice in indigenous communities. The measure was approved in an early morning session of the Cámara de Diputados with strong support from President Morales’s Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party. According to some reports, however, the law was approved with little debate and in the absence of legislators from Bolivia’s opposition parties.

Passage of the law comes only two weeks after four police officers were attacked by individuals claiming to uphold the principles of “indigenous justice.” Critics of the law, including Elizabeth Reyes of the Unidad Nacional party, argue that similar attacks are likely to occur in the future because the law does not sufficiently address when and where the application of “indigenous justice” would be permissible. Supporters contend the bill includes adequate provisions outlining when community justice could be applied.

The law will now move to the Senate for approval where it is expected to pass and MAS officials have stated their belief that the measure will be approved by President Morales by the end of this week.

Tags: Bolivia, indigenous, justice, MAS, law

Ecuadorian Water Law Sparks Outrage from Indigenous Communities

October 23, 2009

by Ruxandra Guidi

Last month, around a thousand peasants marched and blockaded the streets of Cuenca, Ecuador, and many more came out in protests throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon, calling for the cancellation of a new water law.  If passed, the law would privatize water services, limit community and neighborhood water management, relax current measures on water contamination, and (to the great frustration of the activists) prioritize water access to private companies.  The demonstrations also came in reaction to a new mining measure, which would allow two Canadian companies—Corriente Resources Inc. and Kinross Gold Corp.—to resume gold explorations in contested areas of the Amazon where indigenous communities live.

The situation has only worsened since the beginning of October, leading to violent raids by police.  In the community of Macas, in the Southern Upano Valley, the attack left at least one confirmed dead and almost 50 injured.  President Rafael Correa has accused the leading indigenous organization, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), of trying to destabilize his government with “lies.” He claims that the protesters were acting on behalf of the country's conservatives who would like to see Correa fail.

Showdowns between the people and the government over indigenous rights and natural resources are nothing new in the Andes.  But in the case of Ecuador, the current conflict over the privatization of water is bringing to mind the so-called "Water War" that erupted in Bolivia in 2000. That dispute ended in a victory for the protesters.

It all started in 1999, when a partnership between the American multinational, Bechtel, and the Bolivian government—at the suggestion of the World Bank—signed a deal to improve water supplies to the city of Cochabamba.  The move increased the cost of the service by 35 percent, to about $20 a month. (The average salary in Cochabamba remained at $100 a month.)  Then hundreds of protesters took to the streets when one of the new water executives said, "If people fail to pay their accounts, we'll cut their service." Protests continued for three weeks until the government backed down.

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Tags: Bolivia, indigenous, Ecador, Water Law

Indigenous Protests in Ecuador Yield Promise of Dialogue

September 29, 2009

by AQ Online

Posted at 3:10 p.m.

Hundreds of Indigenous people staged protests in several provinces across Ecuador on Monday, voicing concerns over what they perceive to be increased privatization of national resources. The catalyst for the protests is a bill being considered by Congress that indigenous groups say will allow transnational mining corporations to exploit water reserves close to their lands.

In northeastern Ecuador, police intervened to stop the protests, resulting in two injuries.

Leaders of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), who had called for the protests two weeks ago, agreed to suspend the demonstrations Monday. Marlon Santi, president of CONAIE, confirmed Tuesday morning that his group would temporarily halt demonstrations to meet with the government of President Rafael Correa.

But Security Minister Miguel Carvajal said Tuesday that protests in some parts of the country had continued, and that the government would not meet with indigenous representatives until all demonstrations stopped. Nevertheless, the demonstrations have not reached the scale of the CONAIE-organized uprisings that contributed to the fall of President Jamil Mahuad in 2000 and Lucio Gutierrez in 2005.

The proposed water bill is widely expected to pass in the legislature, where Correa enjoys majority backing. Correa has accused indigenous leaders of misrepresenting the bill, which he maintains does not seek to privatize access to water.

Ecuadors indigenous peoples make up some 30 percent of the country's population.

Tags: Ecuador, indigenous, natural resources